Capture One will grant most of your wishes if you are a Lightroom user pining for functionality above-and-beyond what you’re getting with Adobe, and it is the program you will find in use on virtually any major photo shoot that is tethered. There are reasons for that.

While there is a slight learning curve, as with any new program, we’re confident that if you’ve got a grasp on Lightroom, you should be able to adapt to the world of Capture One pretty quickly, and we’re here to help ease you in.


When getting started in Capture One, one of the first things you’ll do is choose whether to create a new catalog or a new session as you prepare to import photos or begin a tethered shoot.

Migrating Lightroom users may select the catalog out of familiarity, but the “New Session” option has some pretty significant benefits and should not be overlooked, and here we’ll discuss the anatomy of a Capture One Session and why you may want to opt for sessions over catalogs.

[Rewind:] Capture One Tips | Easy Color-Grading With The ‘Color Balance’ Tool

A brief note: Capture One is highly customizable. When describing where to find different things in Capture One or how the program will behave, throughout this article the descriptions will be of how the program operates as a default upon opening, without customization.


Sessions were the only way to organize your work in Capture One until catalogs were introduced in Capture One 7. Sessions are “ala carte” while catalogs entwine information from as many different shoots as you choose to include.

When images are imported into a catalog, they become part of a singular catalog file, much like Lightroom. On a Mac, you can still get to the raws if need be by right-clicking the catalog file, choosing “show package contents” and navigating through folders until you find your files, but if the catalog becomes corrupt you’ll be looking to recover backed up versions of the catalog file or you’ll find yourself out of luck.

[Rewind:]  How To Even Out & Control Skin Tone Easily | Capture One Tutorial

‘Sessions’ create a folder structure inside of a session folder where files are easily accessible, not hidden away inside a catalog file. They offer greater security to your work, as their individualized nature means that if something were to happen to your session file, a much smaller number of photos would be affected, and the photos themselves would be safe. They are also more straightforward to transport from person to person or machine to machine.


Upon session creation, you are given the option to name the folders yourself, but the default names are logical and will work just fine. They are

  • Capture
  • Output
  • Selects
  • Trash

Also located within the designated folder is the session file, which will be in the format of “session name.cosessiondb,” and is essentially the same idea as the .LRCAT files you may be used to.

All the folders can be accessed within Capture One via the ‘Library Tool Tab.’ You can find it in the default Capture One layout by clicking the icon that looks like a folder in the top left corner of the interface. Adobe Bridge users will feel a twinge of recognition in this Tool Tab.

The Library Tool Tab consists of four sections by default: Session Folders, Session Albums, Session Favorites, and System Folders. In the Library Tool Tab, when you click a folder, album, or collection, its contents will be displayed in the ‘Browser,’ the area where photo thumbnails are displayed. When an image is selected via the Browser, it is shown in the ‘Viewer,’ the largest area where images are displayed in the center of the screen. When both the Browser and Viewer are visible as they are by default, this is called ‘Primary View.’


The ‘Capture’ folder is the default location where imported files will be stored, whether they are sourced from a memory card or imported directly from the camera as you shoot.

The ‘Selects’ folder is an easy way to separate selects from a session. While you can use star ratings and color labels to sort selects similarly to how you would in Lightroom, sometimes it makes sense to send selects to their own location.

For example, if you were working as part of a team and were culling images to pass on to someone else for post-processing, you could quickly send your selects to the ‘Selects’ folder by either right-clicking on an image and choosing ‘Move To Selects Folder’, or by long-pressing the arrow icon from the Tool Bar above the Viewer and selecting ‘Move To Selects Folder’ so that any image you click with that tool active will be moved.

With all your selects in one convenient location, separated from the rest of the session, you can zip the folder and send it on to its intended recipient.

The ‘Output’ folder is the default location for exported files to be stored upon completion. When you export your variants this is where they will be sent unless you tell Capture One otherwise. This can be a convenient way to keep track of your images or to simplify passing files off to someone else once processed.

The ‘Trash’ folder serves as a safe place to store undesired images from your session. It’s a quick way to get rid of shots that you know you won’t use, like ones with missed focus or where a flash didn’t fire. By putting these shots in the ‘Trash’ folder, you efficiently streamline your experience in the Browser as you make your selects, keeping files you know you have no use for out of the way.


Session Albums operate very similarly to Lightroom collections and can be used to organize sets of images within a session, and come in two varieties: Standard, and Smart Albums.

To those who utilize Smart Collections in Lightroom, Smart Albums will be very familiar. They exist only within the session (no actual files are moved), and you instruct Capture One on which photos to gather for a Smart Album from a dropdown list of criteria.

Standard albums are merely albums that you name and populate manually. You can drag and drop images into standard albums.

[Rewind:] Photography Workflow Tips | Finding Your Footing In Capture One Pro

An example of when you might use albums to organize your session is if you did a photo shoot with multiple products and wanted to put all the shots of each product into its own album.


Here you can designate favorite folders. Session Favorites are useful for quickly navigating if you’ve created other folders within your session folder. You can assign any folders that you’d like to be able to navigate between as favorites and move around with a single click.


Here you can channel your Adobe Bridge experience and navigate to find photos on your computer or hard drive that are not stored in your Session Folder. Using this tab, you can bring other images into your session without actually moving them. If you’d like to make a collection that includes images from other sessions, you can navigate to them via the System Folders tab, view them in the Browser, and drag them to your albums.

As with pretty much everything in Capture One, this experience can be tailored to your exact needs, but this primer will help get you started and prepare you to define what your individual, advanced needs may be.

[Rewind:] Capture One Tutorial | Bend Capture One To Your Will By Customizing the Display

You can purchase Capture One here, and if you’d like to try before you buy, visit Capture One’s website to test drive their latest and greatest, Capture One 11, free for 30 days with no limitations on functionality.